he past few weeks, I've been talking about improving our pets' health and highlighting different "sports" in which our pets can participate. Last week we looked at canine agility; this week, I'm happy to welcome a guest who works with her cats in agility. I'm pleased to bring this post written by Allison Hunter-Frederick. The photos are of her cats: Rainy at left and Cinder in an agility tunnel at the end.
The instant I open our basement door, two of our cats race from their resting spots to join me. They meow and clamber over one another to be the first allowed downstairs. Why are they so excited? They know that an agility session awaits them.
January’s pet calendar is highly focused on the health of dogs. It’s a time when owners are encouraged to walk them and train them. But cats have health needs too.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 60% of America’s cats are obese. In addition, the pet insurance company Nationwide reported in 2017 that nearly 20 percent of its members’ claims were for conditions and diseases related to obesity. Two factors that contribute to obesity in cats are too little mental stimulation (which results in overeating) and too little exercise.
Cat Agility, Really?
Agility is a fun activity that helps to address a cat’s physical needs. In this team sport, your cat will race through tunnels, leap over jumps, weave between poles, and more. Agility benefits cats because it makes use of their senses and skills. Cats have excellent visual focus and accuracy, which they exercise to the fullest as they race through obstacles. They also have strong sprinting and jumping abilities, which they can make use of and hone through an agility course. Additionally, cats excel in learning a skill, remembering it, and adapting it to new situations. This knack to problem-solve enables them to easily learn each new agility course.
Although their independent nature can work against cats, it can also work for them. As their owners, we simply need to tap into their independence by giving them a reason to do agility. Treats, toys, and the obstacles themselves can all serve as motivation.
Lucy’s Learns Agility
My initial venture into cat agility happened in the early 2000’s when I became a first-time cat owner. Inspired by watching my husband and our toy poodle compete at agility trials, I taught our calico cat, Lucy, the basics of agility. Some obstacles such as jumping she caught onto after one training session, while others such as tunnels and weaves took several training sessions.
I began by teaching Lucy one obstacle at a time in our living room. First, I lined up a row of chairs and placed a treat under each. Once Lucy got used to the idea of running through the chair ‘tunnel,’ I’d just throw one treat to the opposite end for her to race after. Then I bought a child’s hoop from the Dollar Store. I held the hoop so that its bottom touched the floor and I coaxed Lucy to step through the hoop with a treat. Over time, I gradually increased the distance from the floor and the bottom of the hoop until she was jumping through the hoop. Next, I bought some empty pop bottles and spread them a few feet from each other. Each time I lured her around a pop bottle I rewarded her with a treat. Once she became proficient with weaving, I increased the difficulty level by rewarding her only after two bottles, then three and four, until she could weave a course of six. When Lucy had mastered all three obstacles, I combined them to create an amateur course in our living room.
Agility Continues at Home
With our current cats, Cinder and Rainy, I became more serious about training. This is why our family now has an agility course cut in our basement. Although such a project can involve large pieces of equipment, you can create an economical one in your home. Foam agility dog jumps and training agility tunnels run about $50 each. Most agility weave pole sets are designed for outdoor use, but I found a set of six indoor weaves and a hoop at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Friends of mine have used traffic cones or even toilet plungers as weave poles. A dog agility course will typically also include a teeter, A-Frame, a cat/dog walk, and table. I have yet to find economical options for a teeter and a cat/dog walk, but I created an A-Frame by pushing together two sets of small pet stairs and a table by using a sturdy cardboard box.
Training is the highlight of every afternoon for my cats. I take about fifteen minutes with each cat. On their turn, I run them a few times through a course in addition to teaching them obedience and tricks. Both receive lots of cat treats and praise as rewards. At the same time, I let each cat dictate the pace. If one of them struggles with an agility obstacle, I work specifically on it. By the same token, if either of them loses interest, I move into a different type of training or I end the session for the day.
Is it a Sport for You and Your Pet?
For any pet owner, there are three reasons to take up agility. First, it’s fun. Second, because agility is a team sport, it will strengthen the bond between you and your pet. Third, all this activity will be good for the health of both you and your pet. Whether you use just a few or several obstacles, your cats will love being active with you.
Interested in doing cat agility? Feel free to ask questions in the comments.
Watch Allison and Rainy go through agility on YouTube; clink the link here to see them in action: https://youtu.be/4NgAtiAQob8
Allison Hunter-Frederick is an administrative assistant, pet blogger, and cat therapy handler. She hosts an animal welfare blog at lincolnpetculture.wordpress.com/. She is also taking classes on cat behavior. Readers can follow her cat Rainy on Instagram @rainythetherapycat. Allison’s goals are to strengthen the human-pet bond and increase pet retention. She is available for guest posts and freelance pet writing.
There are many types of activities a person can do with their pet. During the next few months, we’re going to look at the numerous and varied sports you can do with your pet. Although primarily geared for canines, cats can also engage in different activities, as we'll learn in future posts through this series I’m calling “What Activities Can I Do with My Pet?”
Dogs love activities. In fact, most dog breeds originated for some type of purpose, whether hunting, herding, or digging. Therefore, different breeds are high energy; they need activity to burn off that energy. These days, there are a wide variety of sporting events you and your dog can do together, from agility to skiing. This week, we’ll look at canine agility.
What is Canine Agility?
Agility is a team sport, an activity between a dog and its handler. It’s often a competition and is endorsed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and other canine organizations. However, you and pup do not have to compete; you can just enjoy the sport for the fun.
To participate in agility, dogs go through a series of obstacles, including weave poles, tunnels, and see-saws; the idea of the competition is to complete the course as quickly as possible, with the best time produced being the winner. The competitions are held for dogs of different sizes; therefore, your collie and your Westie can both complete. Even if you choose to not participate in competitions, you and your dog can enjoy the benefits of agility in your own back yard. Equipment can be purchased online and sometimes in big box pet supply stores like PetCo. You can also make agility equipment yourself or have someone make the course items for you.
What Breeds Do Best in Agility?
Although any type of dog can participate in agility, the breeds most adept at this sport seem to be Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Shetland Sheepdogs (“Shelties”), and some terriers. Surprisingly, you can also find Pembroke Welsh Corgis, Standard Poodles and German Shepherd Dogs on the list. If a dog has energy, listens well, and knows basic obedience commands, s/he will likely enjoy and do well in agility.
Where to Find Competitions in the U.S.
One of the best ways to discover if agility is a good sport for you and your dog is to visit some agility competitions and observe how things are done. Here are three websites to find out where competitions are being held:
If you think agility would be fun for you and your pup, learn more about this sport and how to get started (whether for fun or competition) by visiting these websites:
There are many “pet holidays” and “special days” throughout the year; January is no exception. As noted last week, this is Walk Your Dog Month. January is also Train Your Dog Month.
Training our dogs even the basic commands, like sit, stay, come, and heel, is a great idea for several reasons. First and foremost, emphasizing these obedience words helps keep them safe. Daily, dogs in yards and visiting parks run into the street and are hit by cars. Having your dog respond to your voice command to “come” or “stay” helps prevent such tragedy should your beloved furry friend leave your side.
Training doesn’t have to be all about commands, however. Training can also include fun activities, such as agility, field work, and even games of fetch. Training can involve both voice commands and hand signals, and such activity is not only good for your dog’s physical health, but also its mental health as learning engages your dog’s brain.
Dogs aren’t the only animals that can be trained. Believe it or not, cats can also respond to words. “No” and “off” are good to use with cats as well as dogs; some felines are notorious for getting on tables and kitchen counters. I know a woman who uses clicker training with cats, rewarding them with treats for their good responses to her words.
Pet people want to bond with their beloved animals; training helps do that. For our pets, especially dogs, training is like playing games, and engaging your furry friend in games is fun for them. Therefore, they view it as time spent with you, which dogs especially enjoy since they are pack animals.
Take time this month to stimulate your pet mentally and physically with training. You’ll discover not only enjoyment in spending more time with your pet, but you’ll also reap the benefits of knowing your pet is safer by positively responding to commands as well as experience a stronger bond with your special friend.
Learn more about training dogs here:
Learn more about training cats here:
January is Walk Your Dog Month. I don’t know if there’s a special time set aside for Exercise Your Cat, but there should be. All pets need activity to be healthy. So do people. We can take time this month, in fact, each week, and preferably each day, for a bit of exercise with our pets. It’s good for them, and it’s good for us!
January is a time many people decide to pay more attention to their health. Exercise is one way to accomplish that. You can involve your pet in that resolution, and together, become healthier. There are many benefits to exercise for us and for our pets, including:
So, whether you talk a walk through the neighborhood, spend time at the dog park, play fetch in the backyard, or engage in a ribboned fishing pole activity with your cat, you and your pet will reap great benefits exercising together!
Read more on the benefits of activity for you and your pet at these websites:
Winter is officially here. Whether your area experiences chilly rain or freezing temperatures with blowing snow, this time of year brings safety concerns for our pets, including frostbite and poisoning. Below are five ways to keep your pet warmer and safer during these next several months:
Putting these five tips into action will help keep your four-footed companion warmer and safer during chilly winter months.
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.